The weeks of my internship in the Policy Branch at NEPA were consistently educational and rewarding with new experiences. Although some of my tasks offered me less accountability and responsibility than I had hoped, it is difficult to ask for more than that from what is billed as an “experiential requirement” by my university.
On paper, and really, in my mind when I look back as well, the tasks I was given were quite interesting. Between deciding to follow and actually following the stipulations of the LBS Protocol, the Jamaican authorities need to develop the methodologies necessary for the implementation of several programs included in the Protocol. One of these programs is the classification of Jamaica’s coastal waters as either Class I or Class II receiving waters, and following that, limiting sewage effluent to those two water classes as the Protocol requires. And before developing a methodology for this classification problem, NEPA requires a large amount of research to determine how to best approach the transformation of the soft boundaries found in ecosystems to the hard geographic delineations that can be cartographically defined. The limit between Class I and Class II can easily be said to exist, but where do you place that thin line that has such a significant impact on human behavior and ecological response? The easiest way to commit to such a decision is to watch other parties make that decision for you and see how they fare. This strategy works well for some regulatory agencies if there are other larger, better-funded counterparts.
As a representative of NEPA, I reached out to several LBS focal points within the greater Caribbean to gather information on what classification methodologies they had developed. This included contacting governmental and intergovernmental organizations that are in some way related to the adaptation of national policy to the requirements of the LBS Protocol. From all of the inquiries I sent out, the best responses came from St. Lucia, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. These were the parties that had answered that they were at least considering the problem of geographically demarcating the two classes of receiving waters. Many of my emails just disappeared into silence with follow-up emails meeting the same fate. I can only assume that the recipients either had nothing to respond with or failed to notice my inquiry. The responses I did receive showed that many other nations had delayed their development of a classification methodology just as Jamaica had. After receiving responses from the countries that had something to report, I summarized and began to think about synthesizing an option unique to Jamaica. But that is where I left it.
Other planned activities, such as field trips, were frustrated by the legal aspect of including a foreigner on official field visits. By the time I could waive my rights to legal action in case of dismemberment, my days had almost all been spent. I missed visits to mangrove forests and reefs that would have been a dream come true. This is helpful information for any future interns reading this; I suggest you get the waiver straightened out immediately so that these opportunities don’t slip away from you as well.
Challenges: Not receiving responses nor requested information from countries and being able to participate in more planned field trips due to the lack of a waiver.
Lessons learnt: Research and immediately handle any paperwork enabling you to fully embark on an experience to avoid missing out on certain opportunities.
The airport authorities are calling over the PA, and now I must go, having packed the small bottle of duty-free rum away and spent my last 1000 JMD on the luxury of an iced coffee, I should head for my gate. Farewell Jamaica, UNEP and NEPA!